PFULLENDORF, Germany -- After an intensive 22-week course at the International Special Training Centre, 23 Soldiers from 10 NATO and partner nations graduated from the inaugural NATO Special Operations Combat Medic Course, March 3, 2017.
The NSOCM course introduces multinational special operation forces medics, non-medic operators and service members from similar-type units with existing basic combat lifesaver skills to a wide variety of lifesaving techniques better equipping them to deal with the unique medical challenges that may arise during SOF missions.
The course covers 164 NATO-recognized critical tasks in trauma and non-trauma clinical medicine, injuries, illnesses and conditions.
"The ISTC being a multinational organization facilitates the NSOCM course by bringing in the expertise and knowledge out of the whole NATO and Partnership for Peace nation environment and thereby delivers a variety of top-notch instructors to teach our students," said German Army Maj. Juliane Puhan, NSOCM officer in charge. "The fact that we can basically reach back to our world-wide network and bring in guest instructors from all over the world is quite unique for a training center and results in truly high-quality instruction for our students."
The ISTC, a subordinate unit of 7th Army Training Command headquartered at Grafenwoehr, Germany operates near Pfullendorf and pulls its instructors from a variety of nations and medical professions. The facility is designed to provide advanced and specialized training, at the tactical level, for allied and partner SOF forces, according to Puhan.
"Overall throughout the course we cooperated with 67 guest instructors out of 14 different nations, civilian as well as military," said Puhan. "Guest instructors were coming out of organizations like hospitals as well as schoolhouses, universities and companies."
This multinational learning environment enabled students to break through any cognitive barriers that existed.
"When you're used to working in your unit, your country, you don't know how much is out there," an Italian Army SOF operator and honor graduate of the course explained. "When you're working with all these amazing people from different countries then you get to know a lot about their protocols, the way they do things and that's a great addition to your experience and capabilities."
The NSOCM course is also open to military combat medics outside of special operations.
"Being able to learn from international forces was crucial, you can't say you have interoperability until you have 10 different countries in a class as we did for six months together, living together and working together," explained U.S. Army Sgt. Raymond Betancourt, combat medic specialist, assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "To learn from everyone's successes and mistakes from every country, you can't beat that experience anywhere."
This course went beyond the scope of Betancourt's U.S. Army Combat Medic training, bridging the gap into long-term care since medics in future contingency operations may face longer evacuation times and limited resources during short-notice deployments to austere environments.
"Coming into this training, I had to get into the mindset of understanding what we came here to do and learn how to hold a patient for 36 hours," said Betancourt. "Regular Army medic training teaches us to take care of the patient with lifesaving intervention and get them out of there as soon as possible, so to be able to learn how to push past that wall was definitely good for me."
The course culminated in a field training exercise that tested these newly-learned skills under stress, where students are sleep deprived and handling multiple patients in conditions ranging from common injuries to serious trauma.
"The presence of a NATO Special Operations Combat Medic on the asymmetric battlefield truly enables the most effective Special Operations as their capabilities allow Special Operations Task Units to deploy into the most rugged and austere conditions with the confidence that if they sustain serious battlefield injuries, they will be able to survive through the trauma, prolonged field care, and clinical capabilities resident in a trained and certified NSOCM," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew Coburn, ISTC Commander.
"Because the NSOCM Course trained its students in accordance with the protocols provided by the NATO Special Operations Headquarters or NSHQ, NSOCMs are fully interoperable when deployed in support of NATO operations," Coburn said.
This joint and combined course graduated 23 students from the nations of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and the United States.
With the classroom and practical exercises complete, the graduates will move on to German hospitals to put their new found knowledge to the test during a final three-week residency before returning to their respective units to train others in the skills of the NATO Special Operations Combat Medic.